Press coverage may keep nine hijackers in UK, says judge

By Roger Pearson

A judge has warned that the press could prolong the stay in the UK of the nine Afghan hijackers granted asylum by the High Court last week.

The court said the men could stay until it is safe for them to return and the press have been warned that naming them would make it more dangerous for them to go back to Afghanistan.

The case hit the headlines after the judgment on Wednesday last week.

However, some papers named the hijackers while others did not.

It then emerged that a court order had been imposed at an earlier hearing, banning their naming.

On Friday afternoon, though, Mr Justice Sullivan, the judge who gave the Wednesday judgment, lifted the veil of anonymity.

He accepted that the men had been fully named by the Court of Appeal and widely in the press and on the internet.

He went on to hold that the rights of the media to "freedom of expression"

under the European Convention on Human Rights outweighed the human rights of the men to anonymity under the Convention.

However, Mr Justice Sullivan warned that the more publicity given to the men would only add to their notoriety and make it even less likely they would be returned to Afghanistan.

The men hijacked an internal flight from Afghanistan to Stansted Airport in February 2000.

They threatened to blow it up in a stand-off with police.

The judge said they had been given anonymity in the first place in 2004, by a panel of immigration adjudicators who were deciding on their refugee status and whether to send them back to Afghanistan.

That hearing was held in camera to protect their human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Although the panel refused them refugee status, it did say they should be allowed to stay.

On Friday Mr Justice Sullivan said: "What those who wish to publicise this case further may wish to bear in mind is that the effect of further publicity will reinforce the panel's decision that they cannot be returned to Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.

"But that must be a decision for those who wish to publicise the matter.

"It is not a reason to impose any form of anonymity order at this stage."

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